By Jenny Nixon Carter
Rutland Herald Correspondent
February 15, 2009
When I was a kid, I walked to school. And so did most of my friends. My route was fairly short, due to a great short-cut through the woods by my house. But I had many friends who walked a few miles. That was just the norm and none of us thought anything about it.
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case here in Rutland County and across the nation. Fewer and fewer kids are walking or biking to school these days. Inadequate sidewalks or bike lanes and busy streets, not to mention lack of supervision and concern for "stranger danger" leads to most parents driving their kids to school or sending them on the bus.
But this societal shift towards bussing or driving to school is a real loss for kids. Walking or biking to school provides a chance for kids to be outside and be active. And with the days where kids spend the afternoon running around in the yard before dinner slowly disappearing, this is another lost opportunity.
However, Safe Routes to Schools is a national program that is working to reverse this trend. This national grant program is designed to decrease traffic and pollution and increase the health of children and the community.
The program promotes walking and biking to school, through education and incentives, to show just how much fun these activities can be. The program also addresses the safety concerns of parents by encouraging greater enforcement of traffic laws, educating the public and exploring ways to create safer streets.
This federal program is coordinated at the state level by Vermont Agency of Transportation. Currently, the SR2S program is accepting applications for its next funding round. Public and private schools with students in kindergarten through eighth grade are eligible to apply.
Schools that receive funding can use it to evaluate existing conditions and attitudes, actively encourage students to walk and bike and identify infrastructure projects to make these activities safer. The schools will receive support for their programs from the Vermont SR2S coordinator.
Programs such as SR2S are important for the health of our children. Rutland County is home to one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the state of Vermont. One of the best opportunities to address this obesity epidemic is to increase regular, routine physical activity like walking or bicycling to school.
Seven schools in Rutland County have received funding through the SR2S program. With the funding, the schools have been able to provide walking and biking safety courses, bike rodeos, helmets and incentive prizes to encourage kids to walk or bike to school.
They can also develop innovative programs to promote walking, such as the one at Proctor Elementary School, where students and school staff meet at the town gazebo and walk together to school on Wednesdays. In addition, they have been able to evaluate what infrastructure needs the community requires to improve pedestrian safety.
If your school is interested in applying for this funding, the deadline for the application is March 13. More information on the program is available online or by contacting Aimee Pope, Vermont Safe Routes to School Coordinator at 828-5799.
(Jenny Nixon Carter is the executive director of the Rutland Physical Activity Coalition. For more information on the coalition, visit www.rapac.info.)